When babies are born early, they may need the specialized care a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) offers to help them stay healthy while their organ systems mature. Fernando Mena, MD, FAAP, chief of Neonatology at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, explains, “Our Level III NICU can care for babies of any viable gestational age, no matter how small they are or how little they weigh.”
MedStar Franklin Square has provided state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care for more than 25 years. After several years of careful planning and construction for a spacious new NICU, patients and staff alike are thrilled with their new unit that opened in early 2016. More than doubling in size for its 23 beds, it provides private rooms, lots of light and a variety of comfortable spaces with views to a beautiful garden beyond.
Dr. Mena says, “Some families experienced both units and they remark that the gorgeous new space helps them feel more hopeful. And since employees usually work 12-hour shifts, many of them rarely saw the sun in our old NICU. The new unit helps them maintain their biological rhythms and that makes it easier for them to provide the friendly, sympathetic, expert care we’re known for.”
NICU Nurse Manager Gerri Petit, RN, couldn’t be happier with the positive impact of the brand new spacious, light-flooded NICU, noting, “We now have a variety of comfortable areas for families, and parents can stay with their infants in private rooms. Each room has its own recliner, wardrobe, refrigerator, and TV. Mom can rest and when she wakes up, her baby is right there. We give families all the comforts of home.”
“Research shows that if mom sleeps in the same room as her baby, she gets more restful and repairing sleep,” adds Dr. Mena. “She can relax and know that she can respond immediately when the baby does need her.”
The NICU also features a new state-of-the-art monitoring system with monitors in each room, in each ‘bay’ of six to eight rooms and on each unit. Nurses also have advanced phone systems that can send text messages to all of the staff.
Petit explains, “Nurses can see everything that’s going on from our central monitoring station. We also can have the Labor and Delivery staff alert the NICU team when they have a high-risk delivery.”
Dr. Mena concurs. “There are two monitors for each baby, one of them right outside the baby’s room, and when an alarm goes off, we can see immediately if we need to intervene.”
Petit says that the NICU cares for premature babies as well as babies with respiratory, infectious and a variety of other medical conditions.
Dr. Mena notes that premature infants have a higher rate of lung, neurological, kidney, and other problems. Caring for those problems requires a skilled team. “We have three neonatologists and six neonatal nurse practitioners on staff, as well as consultation agreements with a wide range of pediatric specialists, including pediatric surgeons, ophthalmologists, cardiologists, endocrinologists, gastroenterologists, and genetic counselors. In the rare cases when a baby needs multi-specialty care, we have arrangements to transfer him or her to one of the two university hospitals in Maryland.”
Becky Livingston and her daughter Fiona, now a thriving three-year-old, were among the recipients of the superb care offered by MedStar Franklin Square’s NICU. Today, you would never guess that Fiona started her life nearly three months earlier than expected, and weighed just over three pounds at birth.
Livingston, then 26, recalls that she went into pre-term labor at just 24 weeks, and had to be put on bed rest. “At 29 weeks, I suddenly got a kidney stone and that sent my contractions over the top.”
She recalls the fear she felt at that time. “While I was in preterm labor, I knew Fiona was in danger,” she says. She gave birth to Fiona 11 weeks before her due date, and at one point, the tiny baby’s weight dropped to two pounds and 14 ounces.
While it was a stressful time for mother and baby, Fiona was in the capable hands of the NICU team. “Dr. Mena and the atmosphere in the NICU were incredible. The doctors and nurses truly cared—you could feel it. They really loved her and allowed me to hold her every second that I could. They included me in their rounds every day and explained everything to me.”
She adds, “The biggest thing is that they didn’t give me false hope. They focused on the progress she was making, but they were factual. I also got lots of support through the March of Dimes, which really helped me as a single mom.”
MedStar Franklin Square’s NICU consistently has high patient satisfaction ratings. A key to keeping patients happy is the quality of the unit’s multidisciplinary team, which believes that a baby’s successful journey from critical care to home should involve the entire family. And the NICU was the first in Maryland to provide the March of Dimes NICU Family Support Program to families when it launched in 2008.
Dr. Mena notes, “We used to restrict family visitation because premature infants are more susceptible to infections, but we have learned that babies do better when they have more contact with their parents. Same as in the regular nursery, in the NICU we encourage parents to be here as much as they can. We also promote skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding.
“Breastfeeding stimulates the infant’s development and helps different organs to mature,” he explains. “Breast milk has enzymes that help the baby to digest the milk. To feed a premature baby, we inject the expressed breast milk through a feeding tube into the stomach until the baby is mature enough to suck, swallow and coordinate that with breathing.”
Despite the challenges she faced as a single mom, Livingston was so inspired by her NICU experience that she decided to return to school to study nursing, where she just graduated. “I have a degree in psychology, but this whole experience made me want to go into nursing.”
Fiona’s mom glows when reflecting on the remarkable progress her young daughter has made. “When she was a year old, we were worried about her speech, so she had speech therapy. But as soon as she went to daycare, she progressed quickly. Today, Fiona can spell and write her name; she knows her letters and numbers, and she has a great sense of humor.”
For more information about our NICU, please call 443-777-7050.
MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
9000 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) needs the support of the community, patients, and associates to build and expand the NICU.